Driving through the Cambodian countryside is like living in an issue of National Geographic.
In glimpses it could be mistaken for my Yorkshire countryside, with green fields stretching as far as they eye can see.
Then a man on a motorbike with a cart of watermelons attached to it drives by, a hazy blue mountain loiters in the distance, skeletal cattle with loose skin trot along the orange dusty road, past wooden houses on stilts.
There is so much green. It’s like when a child tries to paint grass – that almost fluorescent shade of green, mixed in with darker shades for trees. There’s an endless blue sky frosted with clouds. The rainy season makes the countryside glow and I know I’m not in Yorkshire anymore.
I was honoured to get a closer look at these surroundings when I had dinner in a village just outside of Siem Reap on my first night in Cambodia. Beautiful wouldn’t be quite the word to describe being there. Compelling is better, though strange when you think it’s just an ordinary village. It’s a way of life that’s hard to take in at once. Whilst being shown the village, I felt so love in travelling, amazed I was seeing such different parts of the world, as well as grateful for their wonderful hospitality.
I also got to see a fishing village, tucked away in Ream National Park.This was later in the trip, when we were staying in Sihanoukville. Once again, the villagers were so welcoming and smiling at us. Apart from an adorable baby who wouldn’t stop crying. To get there, we trekked through the jungle, though trek may be a generous word. It was a forty minute walk with a lot of tree roots. It was pretty spectacular in places and sweaty in all places. Good God it was hot.
Then we reached the most idyllic spot, which made all the sweaty walking worth it. Boats floated on top of crystal blue water, with a slanting wooden pier to take you further in to the blue. It felt like paradise and I could have stayed soaking in that view for hours.
After the National Park we went to a waterfall. The tour guide had said there would be a free massage nearby. It turned out to be the waterfall pounding against our backs. The guide’s face split in such a grin and you could get an idea of what he’d been like as a little boy. None of us could stop laughing or screeching as the water thrashed around us.
We climbed half way up and then walked across the rocks behind the waterfall. White water pouring all around, the rocks slick and a constant roaring gush. Surprisingly, I could stay dry sometimes if I faced the rock enough. “I’m in a waterfall,” was such an exhilarating thought. Despite the worry of falling, it was absolutely extraordinary.
The climb was followed by a swim in the nearby river. The tour guide showed us how to avoid the rocks by jumping in to the river himself. Excellent health and safety there. (Sorry mum.) I lay on my back and let the river’s current pull me along for a moment. The trees overhead glowed in the sunlight, the water was cool and the air was warm. It was so peaceful, the babbling water flowing with the locals’ chatter and giggling children.
To finish the day, we fed wild monkeys, which we were surrounded by almost as soon as we got off the bus. Some of the monkeys were surprisingly picky – they would refuse a banana and only eat the watermelon. But my word, they were all adorable, especially the babies.